Every day, relationships are damaged through online messaging. (Emails, Facebook messages, and Text messages)
This damage happens for a couple of reasons. First, people say things in writing that they would never say to another person face to face. It’s a lot easier to fire off a tense message then it is to say something directly to a person.
Second, most of us have no idea how we actually come across in an online message. Several times, in the past, I have found myself knee-deep in an online misunderstanding or conflict wondering how I even got there.
Through experience (and pain) I have come to realize how powerful online messaging is and how dangerous it can be to both work relationships and friendships. Understanding these three principles will keep you from wrecking relationships with online messages.
1. Conflict through Online Messaging is Unwise
For many years, I sent and responded to emails that involved some tension or conflict. I justified the sending of tense online messages believing that I was able to communicate more clearly in writing than face to face. But this almost never turned out well. Email is a lot better at escalating conflict than solving it.
When a person sends you a confronting message, don’t respond by shooting them back another message. Instead, demand to meet them face-to-face and sort it out.
When you have something to say that involves tension, correction, or conflict, do it face to face and not in an email or text. If you write better than you talk then write out what you intend to say, meet face to face, and read it if necessary. When you are face to face the person who you are communicating with will be able to discern your tone and your heart.
2. Online Messages can be Easily Misinterpreted
It is difficult to communicate or interpret tone in an online message. When I read a tense or corrective email, I am not sure if the writer is yelling at me or communicating kindly. Most of us assume that the writer is yelling.
In my experience, a person almost always receives any corrective or confrontational email as much stronger than I ever intend it. Even when I think I am kind and gracious most often the other person seldom receives me in that way. Communication that involves correction, tension, or conflict is best face to face.
3. Online Messaging is Fast, Permanent, and Dangerous
In the world of online messaging, you can write and shoot off a message in anger that you would probably never send after you have cooled down an hour from now. Slow way down before you send anything that could be received negatively. Anything that you put in writing can come back to haunt you. What you write is permanent. You can’t take back a sent email. So write and send carefully.